I survived my first bikepacking trip…and I may even do another one!

This past weekend I took on my first ever bikepacking trip. I had legitimately no idea what I was in for. It was a spur of the moment trip for me. My coworker and friend Lindsay invited me on a whim. I was hesitant at first because I have seen pictures from some of her past bikepacking adventures and felt ill prepared. I also have been off my bike for about a month due to a rib fracture from a bike crash so I didn’t feel like I was in very good shape. That being said, I committed without having too much time to overthink it. bikepackingPrior to this trip I had never been on a bike for longer than 40 miles in my life. Actually, that’s a lie, last summer I rode approximately 125 miles over the course of 24 hours on a cruiser tandem with my friend Dan for a fundraiser. That was much more of a test of friendship and butt soreness than anything else. And actually, when I was 11 I rode 75 miles on a tandem with my Dad from Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore which I remember very little about other than we had a disc man strapped to the pack with speakers in the water bottle holders. After completion, I remember being completely dehydrated, eating a whole lot of pickles and pierogis, and passing out right away. So, maybe I have done a few long rides but nothing relative to 140 miles on my mountain bike loaded up with 15 additional pounds of survival gear. My point is, bikepacking isn’t just for freak-animal hardcore riders who train day in and day out for upcoming trips. To my great surprise, it can be for anyone. bikepackingThe endeavor we took on was Kokopelli’s Trail (west to east) from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colorado. We packed our bikes with the essential items, drove to Moab to camp the night before departure, had breakfast at The Wake and Bake and then it was all uphill from there. You know, from the second I began pedaling up Sandflats Road to the minute I put on my front break in the Rabbit Valley trailhead parking lot (because I totally burned through my rear break pads), I would say I was constantly thinking about how incredibly brutal the ride was. Yet, I was still able to maintain a fairly positive mindset at the same time. That may have been due to the clever complaining I was coming up with. In Colorado we commonly refer to these types of badass, painful and fairly inhuman experiences as type-2 fun, because while doing them you often question your sanity but afterwards, the feeling you get when you look back at what you just accomplished wipes your brain of all negative thoughts you had in the act and clears it to provide a positive perspective on an experience that -without a doubt- made you stronger, both mentally and physically. pic 4This trip showed me a new way to explore unseen land, made me a stronger rider and provided me with an escape from reality with enough time to collect my thoughts but not too much time to rework my entire future like I would have probably done on a less exciting (grueling) lengthy ride. That being said, there were some particularly brutal elements that I think are important to share. So, from first-time bikepacker to reader, here were the elements of horror… bikepackingClimbing Miles It felt like we were constantly climbing. Mainly, because we were. I wish I would have kept track (not really), but I am willing to bet that 25 of the 30 miles on our first day were spent climbing. Maybe I just focused on the climbing, because it was so brutal. Overall we gained over 12,000 feet, though, so that confirms that we did indeed do a bit of climbing. The cool/awful thing about the climbing on this trip was that it varied in so many ways: paved climbs, dirt road climbs, techy climbs, steep climbs. You name it, we climbed it. The Sun Oh Mr. Sunshine you were in full-force this past weekend. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I woke up sweating but I will say that at one point we were riding after the sun went down and my body continued to sweat. Luckily the sunscreen my roommate gave me was almost the strength and thickness of zinc so I didn’t get terribly burnt but, man was it a scorcher! This meant that we drank a lot more water than we anticipated. bikepacking Food I love food. I live for food. If I am having a bad day or accomplish a big task, I go to food for serenity. The flip side of this is that I also suffer terribly from “Hanger” (hungry anger). On this trip in particular I knew I had to keep eating because if my hunger caught up to me then I would have become a very hungry, very angry woman. To prevent that, on Day 1 I’d say I probably ate 75% of my snacks without realizing it. Luckily, Beth and Lindsay shared with me on Days 2 and 3. Even so, on this trip I definitely did not bring enough food and some of the stuff I did have was not what I wanted – like meal replacement 900 calorie bars. I would have rather had hot wings and pickles…maybe next time. The Chase I’m a fairly competitive person so having a rider in front of me really boosts my drive to keep on keepin on. On this trip either Beth or Lindsay were almost always in front of me so I felt like I was in a constant game of catch up. That pushed me hard and at times where I couldn’t catch them I definitely had some mental struggles. bikepackingAdditional factors that contributed to the brutality of the trip that don’t need much detail would be the way my lady parts felt, the smell my body produced, and fantasizing about a non-existent beer every few miles. I was hoping that after a little time passed I’d be able to look back and say, “It wasn’t that bad.” But, if I’m going be honest, which I am, then I will admit it truly was as brutal as I now describe. That being said, I wouldn’t take it back even if there was any possible way to do that. The fact is, the pain I went through was not life threatening, I am still alive, I am stronger, and I am even a little tanner too. bikepackingEven though it sounds like I’m bagging on this trip, I have to give myself a pat on the back for having such a positive attitude. I succeeded in this trip because I put mind over matter. This helped minimize the occurrence of what I refer to as “ bitch fits”, or immature blown out of proportion freak-outs that can be internal but do usually involve a verbal element so that everyone around you knows how terrible you’re doing. I went into the ride thinking, and actually saying out loud numerous times, “Even if this ride totally sucks at least I will have burned around 20,000 calories and became a stronger rider”, and I stuck with that mantra. When I was hike-a-biking up Rose Hill or feathering my breaks for miles of sketchy downhill I never let myself get overly frustrated, because in the end I was going to be a better rider. bikepackingBikepacking really is a totally different brand of seeing different parts of the world. Seeing new places is almost always awesome but the mode by which you chose to do it alters your experience. Driving is great because you cover a lot of ground, however, for me at least, I get so antsy from not moving that I just fall asleep to pass the time (when I’m a passenger, not driver). On the other side of the spectrum, hiking is great because you get so much time to check out the scenery, but it takes so long to cover such a small distance and then usually you have to turn around and hike it all downhill afterwards. Splitting the difference, mountain biking is rad but also terrifying, so while you can get to amazing places on your bike, I personally am in a fairly constant state of terror so the majority of my focus is so zoned into the trail. When I talk about mountain biking I commonly say, “If there was a bear a foot off the trail I would never notice.” And road biking, well, that is great too but why road bike when you can mountain bike? –Which brings us back to bikepacking. bikepackingBikepacking combines all the best aspects – you get see new areas at a slow but steady pace, which allows you to soak it in. You can stop and absorb the new views or cruise right along, engrossed in the experience, vigorously pedaling your bike to see what the view will be around the next corner. Yet in that same day you still get the thrill of speeding through the downhills and pedaling hard through rock gardens to satisfy your inner adrenaline cravings. Additionally, you get to sleep under the stars wherever you choose and have coffee while watching the sunrise in the morning. Yet, you don’t have the daunting tasks of setting up and breaking down camp each day, because all you’re doing is pulling your bivy, sleeping pad and sleeping bag out of your frame bag and crawling in to rest. I think if you have a reliable bike then that’s half the battle. If you can develop a positive mindset before the trip then you’ve completed the hardest part before you ever started. Despite getting my ass kicked on this trip, I am sold on bikepacking. While this particular trip was grueling, it was also amazing. I am under the impression that my first bikepacking trip was not the easiest one out there. If I eliminated a few miles or just added an additional day or two I think my experience would have been less type-2 fun and more type-1, (obvious fun). As a first time bikepacker, I would absolutely recommend this sport to other novice bikepackers, or even cyclists in general. It is such a beautiful and fun way to see new places…you will never want to vacation without your bike again! Thank you to Lindssy for inviting me on such an awesome trip and providing me everything I needed on such short notice! Pic 13

3 Comments

  1. Sounds like a lot of fun ,for a first time trip. Usually the type-2 fun is where you learn the most about yourself and what you can accomplish.

  2. Great read! It sounds like you are now ready, perhaps after a bit more memory fade, to ramp-up to the next ‘type’ of fun. Make sure and invite John Krakauer… 🙂

  3. Now that is a trip you will always know.I rode from Iowa through that country in 1972 on the way to San Francisco. I had a sweater and a poncho in July. A ride of 150 miles a day . we had no GPS, no topo maps,no ice creme,no beer and no fear. You just go for it.You’ll find a lot out there,it’s yours. Look’s like you’ve pushed through to type 1 fun 🙂

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